Friday, 19 February 2010

Review: The Lovely Bones

Year: 2009 (2010 U.K release)
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Whalberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon

Find the story synopsis here

Of all things, you can't say that The Lovely Bones isn't ambitious. A film that deals with one of those big questions (Death), it's a lengthy adaptation of Alice Sebolds best selling novel about the death of a young girl by the hands of a serial killer. But be fooled however, it's not just a typical crime story, that's just the half of it. The Lovely Bones is also a drama which puts the family's grief under the microscope. It delves into the connections broken and made due to this teenagers passing and it also has the girl herself observing and narrating this story from the "in between" a place which appears to be afterlife but before Heaven.

Like I said, ambitious is one of the best words to describe the film because quite simply, the book from which the film is adapted from, clearly has a lot going on inside it. I haven't read it but i was more than intrigued with the books premise and happy to see a director like Peter Jackson tackle the work...that is until I saw the finished product.

Drivel. Absolute drivel. A boring, trite mess of a film which had no idea what it wants to say and does nothing to stir emotion when it finally blurts out the supposed message of the film. Said message comes after a cheat of an ending which has rendered most of what we saw before hand as almost unnecessary. Jackson's film frustrates from the beginning with his distracting camera and Bay-speed editing. For the first time in my young life I found myself counting cuts as opposed to watching the film, such is the distraction. Jackson seems to be in action mode as the camera swishes and swoops but doesn't centralize its focus on what's important...The family.

For a film which deals with relationships, The Lovely Bones doesn't spend any true time building upon any within the film. We are introduced to characters and watch as they fizzle into the background. The screenplay give us nothing to grab on to nor does it give us any reason to care, which is harsh considering that a girl just died. At one point a character leaves for half the movie but aroused no emotion from me at all. Such is the mishandling of the people in this film. The script also appears to concentrates more on the crime element of the film and not the relationships that the film climatic scenes feel ridiculously false, but then again, any film that features a scene that makes the moment that Whoopi Goldberg turns into Patrick Swayze seem normal, plausible and non-saccharine, is a bad thing.

It doesn't help that the acting is also so incredibly weak here. Rachel Weitz who is usually so watchable in almost everything she's in is underused and almost as transparent as the girls in the "in-between". Not her fault I guess, she is hardly in the films 2 and a half hour running time and when she is she's up against... Mark Whalberg.

Yes, the boy from Boogie Nights is at his "happening" best here with an awww shucks, honest American portrayal which is grating to say the least. Grating because it's not a real character, it's a caricature, a look at how Mike Brady would feel if Jan had died.

But so many of the characters are like this throughout the movie; Saoirse Ronan's whispy narration and whiny yelling, Susan Sarandon's amusing but one note drunky grandma, it's all done to disguise the fact that the characterization is JUST NOT THERE. We spend such a long time with these people and we get no deeper into their feelings...unless we count Stanley Tucci's serial killer. But the handling of this is just as cumbersome. There is no subtly utilized to give off tension between the cops and killer, instead we get glaringly obvious references to the fact that this guy is a massive killer and everyone around him is too stupid to realize.

The Lovely Bones was originally going to be filmed by British Director Lynne Ramsay whose methodically paced movies deal with similar themes that this film tried to get to grips with. A filmmaker like Ramsay would have used her talents to allow characters to breathe and give off a perhaps more coherent and enjoyable movie. Not the case, as here we are given a film with three scenes of interest. One of them is merely a proper introduction to a character. A film which is only sporadically interesting, and the visuals are really nothing special. Fans of the book may get more out of this than myself. I however found myself repulsed. I wait patiently for Mr Jackson to make fun films again.

Hear me rant about it on the Cinematic Dramatic podcast